Our Weak Recovery in One Graph

Government Spending During RecessionsThis graph comes via Kevin Drum, Here’s Why the Recovery Has Been So Weak. As he points out, it isn’t new. I have written about this many times myself. But it is really really annoying.

Part of this is Obama’s fault. I remember in 2010, he was spouting the same conservative nonsense as the Republicans, “Families across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions. The federal government should do the same.” No! No! No! That’s not how macroeconomics works. The entire economy is not like a household. In the entire economy, one person’s reduced spending is another person’s reduced revenue. It was not the right time to tighten the federal budget when the unemployment rate was 9.8% and the inflation rate was 2.6% and heading down.

But the bigger issue is that Republicans always decide that we just can’t spend any money when a Democrat is in the White House. They have been determined to harm the country until a Republican is elected president. And you can count on them racking up huge deficits the moment that happens. And then the economy will quickly improve and everyone will say, “The Republicans saved the economy!” This is all so predictable that it makes me want to do physical harm to myself — like bang my head against a stone wall.

What the graph above shows is that even since World War II, we have all agreed that the government must spend more money during a recession. That’s certainly what we did under George W Bush during the 2001 recession. But we don’t do it now. And it makes me angry. I don’t really blame the Republicans. They are traitors, but I understand that they are just looking out for themselves and they’ve never claimed to be anything else. They are really awful — but honest.

What makes me angry is that the American people keep voting for them. How low does the Republican Party have to sink before the American people will say, “Enough!” Sadly, I think the answer is that there is no level. If the Republicans created a debt crisis by refusing to raise the debt ceiling, it would throw the global economy into recession. But as long as it was done more than six months before an election, the American people would not punish them.

In fact, we’ve already seen this. The world economy is still struggling because of the economic policies forced on us by the Republicans over the last six years. Of course, there are two sides to this. First, there is the ignorant, hateful conservative base that comes out to vote because the only thing that they have to stop them is the fact that they might miss one of their favorite Fox News shows. Second, there are the liberals like Carey Wedler who can’t manage to show up to vote when it isn’t a presidential election.

I wonder if the American people realize just how close we are to fascism? Or even if they care? The Nazis didn’t come to power in Germany because a majority of the people wanted them. If the people of a country can’t be bothered to care for their democracy, they will see it go away very quickly. And if you don’t have a job right now or if you haven’t received a raise in 8 years, all you need to know is in that graph above. And it is mostly thanks to a political party that cares only about getting power and doesn’t care if it has to destroy the nation and its people to get it.

Vote, damn it!

Guns Don’t Kill People, But Cars Do

Brian BeutlerFor years, in response to political pressure, the Centers for Disease Control have been effectively prohibited from researching gun violence as a public health and safety issue unto itself. Two months ago, in the immediate aftermath of the Emanuel AME church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, when a powerful House panel torpedoed a piece of legislation that would’ve permitted the Centers for Disease Control to study the root causes of gun violence, House Speaker John Boehner defended this sort of interference.

“The CDC is there to look at diseases that need to be dealt with to protect public health,” Boehner told Todd Zwillich, The Takeaway’s Washington correspondent, at a Capitol press briefing. “I’m sorry, but a gun is not a disease. Guns don’t kill people — people do. And when people use weapons in a horrible way, we should condemn the actions of the individual and not blame the action on some weapon.”

Guns are not microbes, but neither are automobiles, unhealthy foods, slothfulness, or any number of other unhealthy things that the CDC researches, unencumbered. When a bullet pierces human flesh, that body becomes extremely ill right away, no less than when a body flies through a windshield or experiences a severe electric shock. But where government actively regulates cars and construction sites — indeed is applauded for doing so — it simultaneously takes steps to abstract guns from the harm they cause, and silence public officials who refuse to play along.

—Brian Beutler
More People Should See Vester Flanagan Kill His Coworkers on Live TV

Using Statistics for Bigotry

Stupid Terrorism Stat

I found this table on a vile but (unsurprisingly) popular blog called The Religion of Peace. Get it?! The Muslims killed 2,996 Americans on 9/11, but only 1 Muslim-American was killed in response. I don’t know about these statistics. There have been other terrorist attacks, so I suspect we could up that number of Americans killed (some of which were Muslims). (Actually, they do increase the number: 3,106 currently.) And it seems to me that there were more Muslim-Americans killed in response. But the numbers don’t matter. I’ll grant them. The point is that this is an incredibly skewed way of looking at the results of 9/11.

George W Bush would never have had the political support to invade Iraq without the 9/11 attacks. As we know from Richard Clarke, in the first 24 hours after the attack — and for months afterwards — senior administration officials wanted to use the attacks as a pretense to invade Iraq. The Iraq War is a direct result of the 9/11 attacks, even though Iraq had nothing to do with those attacks. So we can’t even say that the Iraq War was a response to the 9/11 attacks. It was just an excuse. So if we want to look at Muslim vs anti-Muslim violence, we’ve got to look at the Iraq War.

The Iraq Body Count project found that between 112,000 and 123,000 Iraqi civilians were killed during the Iraq War. So that’s at least 36 times as many Muslims killed as Americans. When you put it that way, it doesn’t look so good for the Americans. But I get it: there are lots of ways to do the accounting. But I’m pretty sure that the United States — with just slightly less in military spending than the rest of the world combined — will turn out to look pretty bad regardless of how you look at it. Or at least it will unless you decide to present data in an absurdly skewed way as The Religion of Peace has.

If you read the “About Us” page on their website, you will find out that it “is a pluralistic, non-partisan site concerned with Islam’s true political and religious teachings according to its own texts.” This goes back to the article I wrote the other day, Religions Reflect Not Define. Anti-Muslims just love to pick through the Quran and find whatever passages they can to make their case that Islam is a horrendous religion. The same thing can be done to pretty much any religion, and I’ll admit, that Quran has lots of great blood thirsty garbage in it. But just as very few Christians believe that homosexuals should be stoned to death, very few Muslims believe similar passages in the Quran.

None of this means much of anything except that there are a lot of bigots out there. It works the same way regardless of who is doing it or who it is being done to. The violence that we perpetrate is excused as defensive and thus justified; the violence that they perpetrate is unacceptable because it is aggressive. A handful of impotent guerrilla fighters is justification for a hundred thousand uniformed troops to kill thousands of civilians.

So the narrative that our friends at The Religion of Peace are offering is that the US was just minding its own business and we were attacked on 9/11. That’s a simplistic but acceptable claim. But then, we start two wars as a result — killing many tens of thousands of civilians. But we are the good guys! The people we killed were not in response to 9/11. They were just unfortunate casualties of war. The score is 2,996 Muslim murders and just one American murder. When people can’t take responsibility for their actions, they don’t grow. When countries can’t take responsibility for their actions, they die. It isn’t hard to see America dying.

The Basis of Trump’s Appeal: Authoritarianism

Donald TrumpAt The New York Times, Frank Bruni was scratching his head, Trump-ward, Christian Soldiers? He wants to know how it is that such an un-Christian man as Donald Trump can be doing so well with evangelical voters. After all, “He just about runs the table on the seven deadly sins. He personifies greed, embodies pride, radiates lust. Wrath is covered by his anti-immigrant, anti-‘losers’ rants, and if we interpret gluttony to include big buildings and not just Big Macs, he’s a glutton through and through. That leaves envy and sloth. I’m betting that he harbors plenty of the former, though I’ll concede that he exhibits none of the latter.” By Christian dogma, you really only need one of the deadly sins and Trump gets at least six. (I’m not as inclined as Bruni to give him a pass on sloth.)

Bruni isn’t just talking about Trump. He also discussed Ted Cruz who spoke publicly about the “misery, stagnation, and malaise” of the Carter presidency the day Carter’s health problems were made public. Before discussing this, remember that what Cruz said is factually wrong. The economy did better under Carter than it did under Reagan’s first term. But thinking that everything was terrible under Carter is just something that all Republicans “know.” Regardless, Bruni contrasted Cruz’s and Trump’s public un-Christian behavior with Carter’s humble Christianity, “His own Christianity is not a bludgeon but a bridge.”

But is it the case that evangelicals support Trump (and to a lesser extent Cruz and Huckabee) because he makes a big public deal about his supposed faith? Certainly Paul Krugman doesn’t think so. He wrote a great, short blog post, The Reactionary Soul. He noted, “Conservative religiosity… [was] never about living a godly life.” He also talks about the conservatives who believe in the “free market” supporting a mercantilist like Trump. Conservatives don’t support these things that they claim to. Krugman quoted Corey Robin:

[Conservatism is] a reactionary movement, a defense of power and privilege against democratic challenges from below, particularly in the private spheres of the family and the workplace.

Although this is certainly true, what really defines conservatives is their authoritarianism. And Krugman even gets at this. “Trump is admired for putting women and workers in their place, and it doesn’t matter if he covets his neighbor’s wife or demands trade wars.” Conservatives like Trump and their other heroes because they are “strong.” I talk a lot about the Republican Party being proto-fascist. But the truth is that the Republican voters are full out fascists. They are looking for exactly what the German, Italian, and Spanish fascists offered.

Let us not forget the love affair that conservative had with Vladimir Putin. Last year, Ishaan Tharoor posted a number of comments from conservatives as to why they liked Putin and it is illuminating. This was following the Syrian crisis. It’s all the same: Putin is “strong” and a “leader.” And what that mean is that Putin is an authoritarian. It reminds me of an episode of This American Life, Swing Set. It was during the 2004 election, and Ira Glass had a series of conversations with a conservative doctor James Hackett. Hackett hated everything that Bush had done. But he kept coming back to the same idea: he hated what Bush did, but at least Bush did what he thought was right. (This is a ridiculous contention — Bush was one of the most fake politicians ever — but let’s go with it.) So it was worse to vote for a politician who panders to the wishes of the people than to vote for a man who went against them. So “strength” is more important than being right — or even democracy itself.

Trump is the ultimate conservative politician. It doesn’t matter what his policies are. It doesn’t matter what his character is. Whether the conservative is a Christian evangelical or a libertarian “free” marketeer, Trump is what really matters to these voters: he’s an authoritarian leader. The conservative base is made up of authoritarian followers. And there are enough of them to elect just about anyone under the right conditions. And if that makes you think of Germany in the early 1930s, it should. It’s terrifying.


As I’ve discussed elsewhere, the reason that the Republican establishment is against Trump is not because of his policies. And it certainly isn’t because he’s an authoritarian. It is because they think he can’t win the general election. So don’t be fooled by the fact that Charles Krauthammer is against Trump. It’s purely tactical.

Morning Music: Waylon Jennings

Folk-Country - Waylon JenningsMoving on with our week of “Man of Constant Sorrow,” I thought we would visit Waylon Jennings. Yesterday, I wrote that he turned the song into “an easy listening monstrosity.” And that’s true. But I listened to it again, and I was right to add that it “is good in its way.” Part of the problem we have is that as time went on, the people singing became more removed from the subject of the song. Jennings was not a man of constant sorrow.

This song is off Jennings’ second solo album, Folk-Country. The album isn’t bad. It’s got that late-60s sound that I associate with people like Bobby Goldsboro. But it has nothing of what I love this song for:

Anniversary Post: Rebecca Clarke

Rebecca ClarkeOn this day in 1886, the great violist and composer Rebecca Clarke was born. Sadly, she didn’t write all the much — her longest piece is the twenty odd minute Rhapsody. But because of this, it is all the more notable just how complex her tonal pallet is. The Rhapsody is especially intriguing given the way it supplements her traditionally impressionist style with atonal elements. But unlike Schoenberg, these elements come and go — adding to the dramatic structure of the piece. It’s quite an amazing work:

Clarke faced what can only be described as comical sexism. In 1918, she performed a recital with a number of new pieces by her. One of the pieces, Morpheus was credited not to her, but to “Anthony Trent.” The critics all praised it and ignored the ones she had put her own name to. Now, it is true that Morpheus is a heartbreakingly beautiful piece, but undoubtedly it would have been criticized for that very fact had it been presented under Clarke’s own name. Here it is; it is a wonderful piece:

The following year, she entered her Viola Sonata into a composition competition. She ended up tying with the great composer Ernest Bloch. There was much speculation at the time that “Rebecca Clarke” might be a pseudonym used by Bloch. According to Wikipedia “or at least that it could not have been Clarke who wrote these pieces, as the idea that a woman could write such a work was socially inconceivable.” Of course, even at that time there were great female composers, most notably (for me), Germaine Tailleferre. But facts never stand in the way of prejudice.

Here is a performance of the Viola Sonata with Molly Carr on the viola and Yi-Fang Huang on piano:

Happy birthday Rebecca Clarke!

This is a reposting from last year.